I was just drifting off, Kindle about to tumble from my exhausted hands, when I heard it. First, a little squeak, sort of, and I looked at the strangely garrulous cat, but she was dozing soundlessly on her corner of the mattress. My granddaughter was sleeping over and had been out for more than two hours already, after a very active day at summer camp and in the swimming pool. But a soft, tangled cough soon followed, so I swung my feet off the high bed and tiptoed around to the far side of it. There was six-year-old Sis, sitting up on her soft pink sleeping palette on the floor of my room, rubbing her sleepy eyes and the top of her head, confused and disoriented. A long-eared, purple stuffed rabbit named Mim Mim was suffering prolonged strangulation beneath her left armpit.
It was 11:15 p.m. What now? Nightmare? Upset stomach? Something else?
Hey, I said, very softly, crouching down to eye level, and then I waited. She looked up, surprised for just a tiny hair of a second, then smiled broadly, looking me straight in the eye. No words were exchanged, but the smile floated forward as she and Mim Mim belly-flopped back onto the sleeping surface. And almost instantly, she was out again.
My creaky, sad knees propelled me slowly back up to standing, as quietly as I could. It’s routine, it’s old stuff, it’s never surprising–kids and their nighttime fears. For this particular little one, it’s a phase we’ve been in for awhile now.
And yet: I stood still for just a second, frozen briefly in wonder, in a swell of surprising gratitude, that the sight of my face was all it took. And that I was lucky enough to be there and turn it her way.